ministry of freedomThere is plenty of software and services you can add to your laptop or other computer to improve your privacy and security. You can use the TOR browser, install an anti-virus program, set up a VPN, perform regular malware checks, encrypt your hard drive and a whole lot more besides. But unfortunately, all of these things may well just be skirting around the edges of a problem without actually fixing it. Fortunately, as I will explain further down the page, choosing the best laptop for privacy and security in the first place can protect you.

To put it bluntly, your computer may well have already been compromised before you even took it out of the box, and nothing you can do to it will change that. The reason I say that is because there is substantial evidence (eg here, here, or here) that spy agencies such as the NSA are installing ‘backdoors’ into the firmware, which is the most fundamental low-level software there is. These backdoors provide a point of entry that lets them hack your computer whenever they want. Nothing you add on top off this firmware will be able to protect you against the vulnerabilities introduced at this fundamental level.

This is a real problem. Even if you are one of those people who do not mind government spying, subscribing to the school of thought that “you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide” (an aphorism first popularized by the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, by the way), this could still be a big problem for you. There is no guarantee that a backdoor installed with the intention that it could be used by governments will not be found and exploited by criminals. Discussing this exact problem, the CEO of technology giant Apple recently explained that “A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too”. So if you don’t want hackers to steal your bank details, access your webcam to spy on you, or do all manner of other horrible things, then you really don’t want a backdoor compromising the security of your computer.
If you are like me, and you are politically opposed to governments engaging in mass surveillance of innocent citizens, and somewhat creeped out by the idea that somebody could be watching and analyzing everything your do, then the problem is twice as bad.

The only solution to this problem is to make sure that your computer uses firmware that hasn’t been compromised by one of these backdoors. That isn’t an easy thing to do because most firmware is proprietary software made by multinational corporations. This proprietary software is generally closed source, meaning that there is no way for anybody to check it for backdoors, and as mentioned above, it is probably compromised.

Introducing the Ministry of Freedom

The Ministry of Freedom sells laptops with Libreboot boot firmware, which is free, open source, and has no backdoors (because it is open source, if it did have backdoors somebody would be able to find them).

Of course you can also install Libreboot yourself, but for many people this is just too techie and complicated, and perhaps too time consuming. If you are looking to buy a laptop with the best security and therefore the best privacy – as the two are inextricably linked – then I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these are the best laptops to buy, because they are the only ones I know about which have Libreboot pre-installed for you.

On top of this they have the Trisquel operating system. Trisquel is a flavour of Linux, which means that it is also better for both security and privacy than either Windows or Apple operating systems. Getting used to Linux may take a bit of learning if you’ve never used it before, but some laptop users may actually find this version more attuned to what they are used to because it comes with a familiar desktop as standard rather than those metro tiles which are great for mobiles and tablets but not exactly ideal for larger devices. You get free tech support with every purchase too, so if you run into any serious problems there is always somebody there to help you out.

Minifree, the shortened version of ‘Ministry of Freedom’, is the first laptop vendor to receive a ‘Respects your Freedom’ certification from the Free Software Foundation. This highlights some of the other benefits of these machines. All of the software on a Minifree laptop is free, in the sense that it is free of charge and also free for anybody to view the source code and modify as they wish. This is not just good for hardcore Geeks who want to be able to hack and customize to their heart’s content, it is also good for regular users – because it means that these laptops do not contain all of the ‘bloatware’ that is usually installed on laptops by the manufacturer and which you cannot remove. This means that in addition to being the best for security and privacy, they also offer better performance for the same level of hardware specifications compared to most computers.

They also have some nifty extra features, like the ‘trackpoint’ as an optional alternative to the trackpad.

You can check out the full range of products offered by the Ministry of Freedom here: minifree.org